Ghaurid Dynasty

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Ghaurid Dynasty, Edmund Bosworth
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Ghaurid Dynasty

Edmund Bosworth

Encyclopaedia Iranica

Publishing Date: Thursday, June 22 2006

Ghurids (or Aal-e Sansab) is a medieval Islamic dynasty of the eastern Iranian lands. They began as local chiefs in Ghor in the heartland of what is now Afghanistan, but became a major power from the mid-12th century until the opening years of the 7th/13th century. Ghor was then the nucleus of a vast but transient military empire which at times stretched from Gorgan in the west to northern India in the east, only to be overwhelmed by the Khwarzim Shahs and to disappear, as far as the eastern Iranian lands were concerned, on the eve of the Mongol cataclysm.

Map showing the Ghaurid Empire between 1149-1212 AD (Wikipedia)

The Ghurids came from the Sansabani family. The name of the eponym Sansab probably derives from the Middle Persian name Wisnasp (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 282). After the Ghurids had achieved fame as military conquerors, obsequious courtiers and genealogists connected the family with the legendary Iranian past by tracing it back to Zahak, whose descendants were supposed to have settled in Ghor after Faridun had overthrown Zahak's thousand-year tyranny. The Sansab family was then brought into the framework of Islamic history by the story that its chiefs received Islam from the hands of Imam Ali, subsequently aiding Abu Moslem Khorasani's uprising against the Omayyads and having its power legitimized by being invested with Ghor by the caliph Harun al-Rasheed (Jozjani, Tabaqat I, pp. 318-27, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 300-16, citing a versified genealogy of the Ghurids compiled for Sultan Ala'ud Din Hussein Jahansuz by Fakhr-ud Din Mobarak Shah b. Hussein Mavrudi). It goes without saying that we have no concrete evidence for any of this. The chiefs of Ghor only achieve firm historical mention in the early 5th/11th century with the Ghaznavid raids into their land, when Ghor was still a pagan enclave. Nor do we know anything about the ethnic stock of the Ghori's in general and the Sansabanis in particular; we can only assume that they were eastern Iranian Tajiks.

There were at least three raids by the early Ghaznavids into Ghor, led by Sultan Mahmud and his son Masud, in the first decades of the 5th/11th century; these introduced Islam and brought Ghor into a state of loose vassalage to the sultans (Otbi, II, pp. 122-25; Bayhaqi, 113-21; Jozjani, I, p. 330, tr. I, p. 329; Nazim, pp. 70-72; Bosworth, 1961, pp. 122-23, 127-28). The Sansabanis were only one amongst several chieftains at this time, and topographical gleanings from Bayhaqi (pp. 114-20), plus various details from Jozjani, show that they were petty rulers of the district of Mandesh on the upper Hari Rud near modern Ahangaran. During the second half of the 5th/11th century, the Sansabanis were squabbling amongst themselves but also trying to extend their power beyond Mandesh and to crush other chieftains; at one point, dissident Ghori leaders appealed to the Ghaznavid Ibrahim b. Masud to intervene against the oppressive Sansabani Abbas b. Syed (Jozjani, I, p. 332, tr. I, pp. 331-32; Bosworth, Later Ghaznavids, p. 69), and Mohammad b. Abbas was set up as chief by the sultan. Mohammad's son, Hasan, was the first Sansabani known to have an honorific title, namely Qutb-ad Din, but the history of the Ghurid dynasty, as it may now be fittingly styled, only becomes reasonably well known with the accession of Eiz-al-Din Husseyn b. Hasan (493-540/1100-46).

By now, Ghaznavid influence within the Ghurid lands was giving place to that of the Saljuqs, for Sanjar was able in 512/1118 to place his own nominee, Bahram Shah b. Masud, on the throne in Ghazni. Already in 501/1107-8 Sanjar had raided Ghor from Khorasan (Jozjani, tr. Raverty, p. 336 n. 4), and Eiz-al-Din(493-540/1100-1145) now became his vassal, sending as part of the stipulated tribute mailed coats and the local breed of fierce dogs (Jozjani, I, p. 335, tr. I, pp. 336-37). Sayf-ad Din Suri b. Eiz-ad Din Hosayn succeed in 540/1146 in Ghor, but shared out his lands with his brothers on the basis of Ghori tribal and patrimonial practice. He himself clashed with the Ghaznavids, and after an abortive attack on Ghazni, was killed by Bahram Shah; this marked the beginning of a deep hatred between the two families. On his accession, his son Ala'ud Din Hosayn (544-56/1149-61) avenged the two of his brothers killed by Bahram Shah by declaring war on the Ghaznavids. In a great battle in Zamindawar and then another at Ghazni itself, he defeated Bahram Shah and drove him into India. Ghazni and Bost suffered frightful sackings by Ala'ud Din Hosayn, in which colleges and libraries were despoiled, and the buildings of previous sultans destroyed (Jozjani, pp. 343-45; Chahar Maqala, ed. Qazvini, p. 31), earning him the uneviable epithet of Jahansoz (world incendiary). The Ghurids made no attempt to annex the Ghaznavid provinces of eastern Afghanistan, and soon afterwards Bahram Shah returned from the Punjab; but Ala'ud Din Hosayn does seem to have sought a higher status for himself. Not content with being a mere malek or amir, according to Ibn-al Atir (Beirut, XI, p. 166), he now styled himself, after the Saljuqs and Ghaznavids, al-Sultan al-Mu'azam and adopted the Chatr or ceremonial parasol as one of the insignia of royalty (in fact, the designation al-Sultan al-Azam already appears on the coins of his predecessor in Ferozkoh, Baha'ud Din Sam b. Hosayn, r. 544/1149; Sourdel, p. 114, nos. 1258-60). He also aspired to cast off his subordination to the Saljuqs, but was defeated by Sanjar in 547/1152, and spent his last years extending Ghurid power into northern Afghanistan and southwards to the Helmand valley (Jozjani, I, pp. 346-48, tr. pp. 347-62; Ibn-al Atir, Beirut, XI, pp. 164-66).

Ala'ud Din Hosayn's expansionist policies raised the Ghurids into a power of significance well beyond Ghor itself. Latterly, he was able to take advantage of a certain power-vacuum in the eastern Islamic world which had arisen through the decay of the Ghaznavids and the collapse of Saljuq power in Khorasan consequent on Sanjar's defeat and capture by the Ghoz in 548/1153. The expansion of the territories controlled by the family facilitated a division of the patrimony amongst its various branches, so that, henceforth, the senior branch ruled over the heartland, Ghor, from the capital Ferozkoh on or near the upper Hari Rud. Ferozkoh was originally founded by Qutb-ad Din Mohammad as the seat of his appendage of Warshada, continued as the capital of Ala'ud Din Hosayn, and then expanded by the building activity of Ghias-ud Din Mohammad b. Baha'ud Din Sam (Jozjani, I, pp. 335-36, 353, tr. I, pp. 339, 370), which included the famed minaret of Jam, which was constructed either at the fortress of Ferozkoh itself or nearby. After Ghazni had been finally taken from the Turks who had occupied it after the last Ghaznavids (579/1183-84), another branch was established there under Moiz-ud Din or Shahab-ud Din Mohammad b. Baha'ud Din Sam, and this branch used Ghazni as a launching-pad for expansion into northern India. Finally, Fakhr-ud Din Masud b. Eiz-al-Din Hosayn was installed in newly conquered Bamian, and his branch expanded into northern Afghanistan as far as the Oxus and beyond it into Chaghanian and Wakhsh (Jozjani, I, p. 385, tr. pp. 423-24).

Under the two brothers Ghias-ud Din and Moiz-ud Din in Ferozkoh and Ghazni respectively (558-99 /1163-1203 and 569-99/1173-1203), the Ghurid empire reached its greatest territorial extent and apogee of power. Although the earlier history of the Sansabani family had been full of feuds and disputes, the brothers maintained a partnership, with mutual amity and a division of spheres of activity and influence. Ghias-ud Din was broadly concerned with expansion westwards into Khorasan and with checking the ambitions there of the Khwarzim Shah's, whilst Moiz-ud Din led raids into India.

In the west, Ghias-ud Din, often in concert with his brother, extended his suzerainty over the maleks of Nimroz or Seistan and even over the Kirman branch of the Saljuqs. Turkish amirs in Herat and Balkh were humbled, but the main thrust of Ghias-ud Din's efforts was in western Khorasan, where the Ghurid came to clash with the Khwarzim Shahs under II-Arslan and Tekesh. The Khwarzim Shahs aimed at capturing Khorasan, backed at times by their suzerains the pagan Qara Khitay. The Ghurids adopted the role of defenders of Sunnism. They had cordial relations with the Abbasids in Baghdad, frequently exchanging embassies (Jozjani's father took part in one of the last, Jozjani, I, p. 361, tr. p. 383). Ghias-ud Din was admitted to al-Naser's Fatwa order, and the caliph more than once urged the Ghurids to halt the advance into western Persia of the Khwarzim Shahs(Jozjani, I, 302, tr. I, p. 243). The actual fighting in Khorasan at this time was largely between the Ghurids and Tekesh's brother Sultan Shah, who had carved out for himself personally a principality in western Khorasan, until in 586/1190 Ghias-ud Din and Moiz-ud Din defeated Sultan Shah near Marv in 588/1192, captured him, and took over his territories (Jozjani, I, 303-4, tr. I, pp. 246-47). When Tekesh died in 596/1200 (Ibn-al Atir, Beirut, XII, pp. 156-58), Ghias-ud Din was able to take over most of the towns of Khorasan as far west as Bestam in Qumes. At the same time, the Bamian branch of the dynasty under Baha'ud Din Sam b. Shams-ud Din Mohammad (588-602/1192-1206) secured Balkh and Tokharestan after the death of its Turkish governor, a vassal of the Qara Khitay (Jozjani, I, p. 389, tr. p. 431).

Moiz-ud Din, installed at Ghazni since 569/1173-74 with the title also of sultan, began raiding through the Gomal Pass into India, capturing Multan and Uch (570/1175) and compelling the Sumeras in Lower Sindh to acknowledge his suzerainty (578/1182). He was repulsed from Gujarat, hence turned to northern India, finally extinguishing the Ghaznavids in Lahore (582/1186) and then advancing down the Ganges valley to defeat various Hindu princes and to occupy Delhi, Ajmer, and Gwalior. Moiz-ud Din himself returned to Khorasan to aid his brother against the Khwarzim Shahs, but his conquests in India were carried on by his Turkish commander Qutb-ad Din Aybak and, expanding as far east as Bengal, by Ikhtiar-ud Din Mohammad Khilji. It was Aybak who at Delhi built the Qowwat-al-Islam mosque (588/1192) and at Ajmer converted into the Arhai Din Ka Jhomprha mosque (comp. 596/1200) a former Hindu college as visible signs of Ghurid might in India (Burton-Page, Dilhi, p. 259 with the plan of Qowwat-al-Islam mosque; idem, Hind, p. 442).

For three years until his own death in 602/1206, Moiz-ud Din was supreme ruler, but in fact followed earlier practice by allotting appendages to members of the family, including Ferozkoh to Zia'ud Din or Ala'ud Din Mohammad b. Shuja-ud Din Ali, and southern and western Afghanistan to Ghias-ud Din Mahmud b. Ghias-ud Din Mohammad; the latter, however, very soon took control of Ferozkoh once Moiz-ud Din had died. Moiz-ud Din's last years had been characterized by failure in the west. Ghurid rule in Khorasan proved oppressive and unpopular; according to Jovayni (II, pp. 51-52, tr. Boyle, II, p. 319), Moiz-ud Din required forced sales and confiscated for his army grain which had been stored in the shrine of the Imam Ali al-Raza at Mashad-e Tus. An attempted pursuit of the army of the new Khwarzim Shah Ala'ud Din Mohammad ended disastrously for the Ghurids, who were halted by flooding of the Chorazmian countryside and then routed at Andkuy on the Oxus by the Qara Khitay (601/1204; Jovayni, ed. Qazvini, II, pp. 57, 89, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 321-24; Barthold, Turkestan, pp. 349-51). Moiz-ud Din escaped personally, but all Khorasan except Herat was lost, and a year or so later the sultan was assassinated in India.

After this, the Ghurid empire rapidly fell apart. Ghias-ud Din and Moiz-ud Din had skillfully maintained the unity of the realm and had kept firm control over the various elements of which the multi-ethnic Ghurid army was composed. Dissension now broke out within the Sansabani family, with military factions taking sides. Thus the Ghori troops supported for succession to the sultanate the Bamian line of the family, whereas the Turks favored Ghias-ud Din Mahmud, who in the end prevailed at Ferozkoh. In Ghazni, power was seized by the Turkish commander Taj Al-Din Yildiz (Ilduz), legitimized by Ghias-ud Din's grant to him of its governorship (602-11/1206-15). The last Ghurids were puppets of the Khwarzim Shahs, until in 612/1215 Ala'ud Din Mohammad deposed the last sultan in Ferozkoh; the Bamian line was likewise suppressed; and Yildiz was driven out of Ghazni. Thus all the Ghurid lands, except those in northern India, fell under Choarazmian control, although it was not long before Sultan Mohammad himself was overwhelmed by the Mongols (Jovayni, ed. Qazvini, II, 108-16, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 327-86; Jovayni, II, p. 85, is wrong in making the conquest of Ghazni after the death of Yildiz).

The constituting of the Ghurid empire was a remarkable achievement for a family of petty chiefs from a backward region like Ghor, which henceforth was to play no significant role in Islamic history. The sultans' military strength was based on both the indigenous Ghori mountaineers and Khiljis from eastern Afghanistan plus the recruitment of Turkish military slaves, but these resources were not in the end adequate to withstand the Khwarzim Shahs, who had the manpower resources of the Inner Asian steppes behind them. It was, of course, in India that the Ghurid legacy was to be the most lasting, for it was the Turkish and Khilji commanders of Moiz-ud Din who laid the foundations of the Delhi Sultanate, in many ways a successor-state to the Ghurids, and who permanently implanted Islam in northern India.

Although the Ghurid empire was not a durable one, it seems possible to speak of a distinct Ghurid ethos and culture. Continuing the attitudes of the Ghaznavids, the Ghurids were strong upholders of the orthodox Sunni form of Islam, once the Sansabani family had emerged from its pagan past. Ismaili propagandists from northern Persia penetrated into Ghor during the later years of Ala'ud Din Hosayn, and received some encouragement from the sultan; but his son Sayf-al-Din Mohammad took strong measures to extirpate it (Jozjani, I, pp. 349-51, tr. I, pp. 361, 365-66). Of more lasting significance for the religious complexion of Ghor was the wide sympathy there for the pietistic, ascetic Sunni sect of the Karramia, which had arisen in Nishapur during the 4th/10th century and had been patronized by the early Ghaznavid sultans. It may be, though the sources are not explicit, that this group, which placed a strong emphasis on missionary work, was active in the 5th/11th century in spreading Islam in Ghor. Certainly, in the following century, the majority of the inhabitants of Ghor are said to have been adherents of the Karramia, and it was only Ghias-ud Din Mohammad and Moiz-ud Din Mohammad who changed over to the mainstream Shafite and Hanafite law schools respectively (Bosworth, 1961, pp. 128-33). As noted above, these two sultans were certainly aware of orthodox, caliphal approval for their authority and the advantages of close diplomatic contacts with the Abbasids.

Literary and artistic activities under the Ghurids likewise followed on from those of the Ghaznavids. The sultans were generous patrons of the Persian literary traditions of Khorasan, and latterly fulfilled a valuable role as transmitters of this heritage to the newly conquered lands of northern India, laying the foundations for the essentially Persian culture which was to prevail in Muslim India until the 19th century. Ala'ud Din Hosayn Jahansoz reportedly was also a fine poet; his poetry, of which only a few lines have been preserved, was widely appreciated in Afghanistan and northern India. Mohammad Awfi had seen a copy of his divan in Samarqand (Lobab, ed. Browne, I, pp. 38-39, ed. Nafisi, pp. 39-40; Jozjani, pp. 343-45; Safa, Adabiat II, pp. 53-55). The contemporary Nezam-e Aruzi mentions as eulogists of the Ghurids such poets as Abu'l Qasim Rafai, Abu Bakr Jawhari, Ali Sufi, and himself (Chahar Maqala, p. 28, tr. p. 30). But while we have surviving several fairly complete divans of the Ghaznavid poets, none of those from the Ghurid period have survived. It is clear, however, that all this literature was in Persian, and claims which were made in Afghanistan some decades ago (e.g., Habibi in his ed. of Mohammad Hotak) of the existence of poetry in Pashto from the Ghurid period remain unsubstantiated. Of Ghurid prose literature, including history and genealogy, mention should be made of Fakhr-ud Din Mubarak Shah Mohammad b. Mansur, known as Fakhr-e Mudabar, the author of a genealogical work, Bahr al-Ansab, and a treatise on kingship and statecraft, the Adab al-Harb wal Shaja'a. The great historian of the Ghurids, without whose information our knowledge of the dynasty would be much sparser, was Minhaj al-Din-e Siraj al-Din Jozjani (d. the second half of the 7th/13th century), who was a diplomatic envoy for the sultans and who composed his Tabqat-e Nasari, in form a general history but in a large measure a special history of the dynasty.

So far as can be discerned from the exiguous surviving examples of Ghurid art and architecture, there was a continuity here with the Ghaznavid age, since some of it cannot easily be separated stylistically from that of the preceding period. The city of Ghazni rose again from the ashes of its destruction by Ala'ud Din Hosayn, and a unique type of glazed tile work has been ascribed by Umberto Scerrato to the Ghurids of the later 6th/12th century. The splendid minaret of Jam is the prime extant example of Ghurid architecture, but there are other remains in Herat and ruins of a mosque and madrasa at Chesht on the upper Hari Rud dating from the reign of Ghias-ud Din Mohammad (cf. Sourdel-Thomine). In the sphere of secular architecture, the extensive palace buildings at Lashkari Bazar on the Helmand river near Bost seem to show a continuity from early Ghaznavid to Ghurid and Mongol times. Nevertheless, it does seem possible, according to Janine Sourdel-Thomine, to speak of the evolution of a distinctive Ghurid architectural style.


  1. JOZJANI., Qesas-e Nabi, Ibn-e Haysham Nabi
    Ibid., Tabaqat I, pp. 318-414; tr. Raverty, I, pp. 300-507.
  2. Mohammad Awfi, Jawam-e al-Hikayat wa Lawame al-Riwayat, analysis in M. Nizam-ud Din, Introduction to the Jawami-ul Hikayat, GMS, London, 1929.
  3. Chahar Maqala, ed. Qazvini; tr. E. G. Brown as The Chahar Maqala of Nizami Arudi Samarqandi, London, 1921. Ibn-al Atir, X-XI, who does not name his sources.
  4. Fakhr-ud Din Mubarak Shah, Adab al-Mulk wa Kifayat al Mamluk, ed. A. Sohayli Kansari as Adab al-Harb wal Shaja'a (incomp. ed.), Tehran, 1346 H/1967.
  5. Jovayni, ed. Qazvini, II, pp. 49-86, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 315-36.
  6. Shahab al-Din Muhammad Nasavi, Seerat-e Sultan Jalal-ud Din, ed. and tr. O. Houdas, Paris, 1891-95, pp. 22, 140-41, tr. pp. 38-39, 233-34; ed. M. Minovi, Tehran, 1965, index.
  7. Mohammad Otbi, Tarikh al-Yamani, with commentary of A. Manini, 2 vols., Cairo, 1286/1869; tr. Naseh b. Zafar Jorfadaqani as Tarjuma-e Tarikh-e Yamani, ed. J. Shear, Tehran, 1345 H/1966, pp. 312-14.
  8. Barthold, Turkestan, pp. 31, 338-53, 372, 374.
  9. C. E. Bosworth, The Early Islamic History of Ghor, Central Asiatic Journal 6, 1961, pp. 116-33.
    Idem, The Political and Dynastic History of the Iranian World (A.D. 1000-1200) in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 157-66.
    Idem, Ghurids in EI2 II, pp. 1099-1104.
    Idem, The New Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1996, no. 159 (chronology).
  10. J. Burton-Page, Dilhi in EI2 II, pp. 255-66.
    Idem, Hind vii. Architecture EI2 III, pp. 440-52.
  11. M. A. Ghafur, The Ghurids, Ph.D. thesis, Universitt Hamburg, 1959.
  12. S. Guya Eitemadi, Tajammol wa tamaddon-e Ghorian, Ariana 1/1 1321 H/1942, pp. 3-7.
  13. Ch. Kieffer, Les Ghorides, une grande dynastie nationale, Afghanistan 16/4, 1961, pp. 37-50; 17/1, 1962, pp. 10-24; 2, pp. 40-56.
  14. A. Maricq and G. Wiet, Le minaret de Djam: La de, Couverte de la Capitale des Sultans Ghorides (XIIe-XIIIe siecles), MDAFA 16, Paris, 1959 (historical survey of the dynasty, pp. 31-54).
  15. R. J. Majumdar, ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People V: The Struggle for Empire, Bombay, 1957, pp. 117-25 (campaigns in India).
  16. M. Nazim, The Life and Times of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, Cambridge, 1931.
  17. A. Parviz, Ghorian, Barrasiha-e Tarikhi 6/1, 1350 H/1971, pp. 143-76.
  18. M. Rowsan Zamir., Pazhuhes-e Dar Tarikh-e Siasi wa Nizami-e Dudman-e Ghorian, Barrasiha-e Tarikhi, 11/3, 1355 H/1976, pp. 257-300; 12/5, 1356 H/1977, pp. 127-72.
    Idem, Atar-e Ghorian, Barrasiha-e Tarikhi, 13/4, 1357 H/1978, pp. 13-40.
  19. U. Scerrato, Islamic Glazed Tiles with Moulded Decoration from Ghazni, East and West, N.S., 13/4, 1962, pp. 263-87.
  20. D. Sourdel, Inventaire des monnaies musulmanes anciennes du Musee de Caboul, Damascus, 1952.
  21. J. Sourdel-Thomine, L'art Ghurid-e De Afghanistan a propos d'un livre recente, Arabica 7, 1960, pp. 273-80


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Ghaurid Dynasty, Edmund Bosworth
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, June 22 2006 (